Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There Oughta Be A Law, Dammit!

Everybody wants something done about something these days, don't they? Plenty of demands for this and that in today's P-G, starting with cell phone freaks in their cars:

HARRISBURG -- Multitaskers beware: If you catch up with friends while you commute, it may be time to add hands-free cell phone equipment to your shopping list.

State Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, is introducing legislation to prevent drivers from holding cell phones while they drive.

Violators would be fined $250.
Now I am no big fan of "nanny state" legislation that tells people what they can and can not do because it's for their own good, but this Shapiro's heart is in the right place. Every time I get cut off in traffic, everytime someone slows to a crawl in front of me on the road, everytime some other driver seems to be having trouble controlling his steering...I see them holding a cell phone to their ear. They are dangerous. They can, and have, caused accidents. But is this reason enough to pass preemptive legislation that will make them criminals?

I have a better idea. Remember the controversy back in the early 1990s about Louisiana's "shoot the carjacker" law? A driver could shoot and even kill a villain during an attempted carjacking and get away with it. It was a wonderful piece of pro-victim legislation. Well, seeing as how cell phone drivers pose such a threat to human lives while on the road, I have thought about how nice it would be if a similar law pertaining to driving while on the phone were to pass. It would be less violent that the carjacking legislation; you would not be allowed to aim at the other guy's body, or even his phone, because you could easily miss and puncture him instead. My law would be known as the "shoot the cell phone user's tires out from under him" law. That'll teach the S.O.B. to pay attention to the road.

Yep, there oughta be a law.

And what about the ongoing debate over helmet laws in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania? The old helmet mandate was rescinded a few years ago, and has only just become a major issue in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's helmet-free cycle accident last week. As it happens, there already is a law -- of sorts:

Mr. Roethlisberger, 24, suffered several broken bones, two lost teeth and a concussion. But he escaped heavy legal repercussions in the June 12 crash at Second Avenue and the 10th Street Bridge.

He will be fined $388 for the summary offenses of driving without the proper class of license and riding without a helmet.

To ride without a helmet under Pennsylvania law, motorcyclists must be older than 21 and either hold a license for two years or pass a state-approved motorcycle safety course.

So Ben broke the law and is being fined for his troubles. (As if hours of reconstructive surgery weren't enough.) But what about riders with a valid license for helmet-free cycling? Should they be forced to wear helmets from now on? Helmet wearing is a common-sense kind of decision. If you're concerned about your personal safety, you'll wear a helmet. If you don't like the government telling you what to do, you won't. Is is the business of the state to get involved? Some people think so. They think there ought to be a law.

For now, if you want to ride helmetless, you do so at your own risk. You have the option to don protective gear if you so choose. Don't blame the government for not doing enough to protect you if you get hurt.

Next up, my electric utility company is having problems. Duquesne Light is coming under fire for frequent power outages during storms. The good news about this -- for me -- is that these outages seem to take place in areas other than the borough in which I reside. The utility is feeling the heat from other customers, though, and is "in the midst of a $500 million upgrade to its system":

The utility company plans to replace aging circuits and equipment and improve power capacity before the end of 2007.

The upgrades can't come too soon for Duquesne Light power line workers, who spent yesterday morning and part of the afternoon restoring service.

Duquesne Light is responding positively to customer concerns, knows what it has to do, and plans to get it done by a certain date. Sounds good, no? Well, no -- not if you're the Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette editors, who in their outage outrage are demanding that the utility needs a kick in the ass to do what they are already beginning to do:

Duquesne Light's plan to spend $500 million to improve its delivery system -- a cost that will be borne mostly by its customers anyway -- is long overdue. The PUC and the state consumer advocate should hold the utility accountable for drastically cutting the number of outages, or else make it face the loss of a different kind of power -- the power of money.
Presumably that reference to "the loss of...the power of money" means that they should be fined. Question: If the Public Utility Commission fines Duquesne Light, how will they utility pay the fines? Where does that money come from? It seems to me that this is another "cost that will be borne mostly by its customers anyway".

Never mind -- there oughta be a fine, anyway!

Finally, there is another editorial that demands that Allegheny County, and indeed the entire commonwealth, should follow the example of Philadelphia, whose municipal government recently passed restrictions on smoking in pretty much every workplace except tobacconists'. This is a difficult issue for me. Like I said above, I oppose the nanny state at pretty much every turn. But smoking is another matter. It's not just that smoke is generally unpleasant to be around. My family has been affected by "the habit". Both of my parents died in their sixties from smoking related illnesses. They smoked by choice, but in so doing they deprived themselves of the opportunity to live long enough to know their grandchildren. Should they have had the choice to smoke taken away from them?

My wife is allergic to smoke. We can't dine in a restaurant that allows smoking, because no matter how hard a restaurant tries to keep the smoking section separate, the air flow always seems to deposit the stench in the clean part of the dining room. We choose to eat at smoke-free establishments. If only everyone else made the same choice, there would be no worries about being oppressed by smoke in bars and restaurants. But they do not, and so a lot of people who mean well think that there ought to be a law.

If such legislation passed, I must admit, it would not bother me terribly. But why not let decent people deal with smokers in their own way, without the government getting involved? I am thinking about another bit of "shoot the carjacker" inspired legislation. This non-violent -- well, less violent, really -- method requires the anti-smoker to carry a seltzer bottle on his/her person at all times, much like Clarabelle the Clown. I call it the "put that thing out!" law. You know what I mean.

So folks, keep on saying that "there oughta be a law". It gives the papers something to write about, and bloggers something to mercilessly mock to death.


jipzeecab said...

It's tough being a libertarian sometimes isn't it..?.
Half of the problem with cell phones is the lack of concentration on the driving caused by the "important" conversation which headsets and speakers doesn't solve..
Many decades ago Duquesne Light customers had the option of directly buying DL stock when they paid their monthly bill with dividends reinvested. A person known to me took advantage of this stock purchase plan which I believe ended many years ago. The amount they annually receive in dividends (which they are still "reinvesting")would be enough today for a single person + their SS to have a reasonably comfortable retirement.

Chus said...

This is what I think: Duquesne Light